If you like shooters, you'll like Tron 2.0. If you liked the movie, you'll love
Tron 2.0 was a pleasant surprise. Like most media franchises translated to games of recent years (007 Nightfire, Dukes of Hazzard, Die Hard, the list goes on), most translations are less than enjoyable. Tron 2.0 thankfully bucked this trend by involving some of the original talent of the movie and combined them with an engaging storyline.
I'll be honest: I'm a huge Tron fan. I was 12 when the movie came out, and coupled with my budding love of computing, it made a solid impression on me that very few movies have. So when I saw pre-release screenshots of the game I had high hopes... and thank goodness, it turned out great. The visuals, sound, and level design not only matched the movie, they exceeded it by leaps and bounds.
For experienced gamers not familiar with the movie, Tron 2.0 puts a few spins on story-driven shooters in a couple of ways. For one, an RPG element is introduced via "build notes", which you can collect to eventually increase your stats (maximum health, maximum ammo, etc.). There are the usual assortment of weapons, from short-range melee and energy-draining weapons to a long-range sniping weapon. One light strategic twist is that each weapon takes up a certain number of "memory slots", and each major area you enter has a different "memory configuration" that changes the quantity and order of the slots, so you have to think about how you're going to accomplish certain tasks and which combination of armor, tools, and weapons to use to do so.
Fan of the movie or not, the visuals are living wonderment: The old mainframe area looks just like the movie (but crisper); virus-ridden areas are cracked, broken, and sickly; the "internet" is a vast metropolis with spires reaching miles into the sky; and so on. The designers enlisted the help of Syd Mead (the original designer of the visuals in the 1982 movie) and it shows -- the place looks gorgeous and I would almost recommend you play Tron 2.0 just to see how everything looks with all the chrome turned on. If you have an advanced video card (I played with an ATI 9500 Pro) you can even enable glowing hazy lightsources for an organic, just-like-the-movie look.
Most modern games significantly lack audio punch, but the audio (especially the music) is easily the best I've heard in recent years. Sound effects like footsteps, throwing the disc, and especially the light cycles are dead-on accurate for the movie, and sound effects for new elements of the game are logical evolutions of the movie sound. Some of the villain voices are suitably campy, but the characters Mercury (voiced by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) and the main character Jet are done well. The addition of original movie voice talent Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan gives Tron 2.0 a slight push to the nostalgic (and, being movie and TV veterans of over 20 years, their performances are among the best in the game). Finally, the music is arguably the star of the entire game: Not only is it electronic (without being hard-core electronica), but it weaves parts of Wendy Carlos' original themes all throughout the main score very skillfully. And true to Monolith's earlier shooter No One Lives Forever, the music is interactive!
You are alerted to danger through a change in the music's tone, and when that threat is eliminated, the music morphs back into an appropriate mood for exploring. It is much more seamless than the NOLF music changes. I can't express enough how much the music made an impression on both me and gameplay.
If you are
a fan of the movie, the storyline (shown via in-game cinematic cutscenes, archived "video" clips, and most effectively in various emails left throughout the system) explains what happened after the end of the movie and further develops the story and characters. If you ever wanted a sequel to Tron, Tron 2.0 does a more than acceptable job.
(And if you ever played the Tron arcade game's "light cycle" subgame at the local arcade when you were in your teens, the updated version adds some new twists: It's 3D, you can vary the speed of your cycle a bit more extensively, and there are various power-ups littered around the area.)
As much admiration as I have for the game, no game is perfect. Some little things bothered me that detracted from the experience a few times:
- Most of the new characters introduced in Tron 2.0 (I don't want to give spoilers by naming names) were never really explored or developed in any depth. This was slightly disappointing for those of us who really bought into the story (ie fans of the movie).
- In the initial retail release of the game -- the one played for this review -- you couldn't skip any light cycle scenes. No big deal if you enjoyed them, but there is one light cycle marathon (three battles in a row) that started to get on my nerves after I kept failing it for over an hour. (However, a downloadable patch remedies this so be sure to patch the game before you start playing.)
- The game's biggest draw, the visual design, works against you in a few places where you need to throw a switch or trigger -- everything is so ultra-bright-neo-modern that it is part to find the switches in two places.
- The ending is a bit of a let-down, I'm sorry to say. It's a very fun ride getting there, but it is simply too easy to beat the final boss (I played it on Normal difficulty) as there are situations you can put yourself in where you can attack the boss but he can't attack you. Worse, the ending cinematic was way too short.
The Bottom Line
Fans of the movie simply have
to pick this up. It is a brilliant realization of the movie, representing it perfectly without ruining anything. And even if you don't know of or like the movie, the game itself is a capable shooter with a unique visual style that you owe to yourself to check out.